Book Report: The Montessori Method: The Origins of an Educational Innovation

Despite my not recommending this book as fully as I have my past two book report subjects, I will say that reading about Maria Montessori has stimulated my interest and caused some wonder.

 I didn't like the book, but I still think you're cool, Maria.

I didn't like the book, but I still think you're cool, Maria.

First, reading about the struggle over the promotion of Montessori's work led me to wonder what role the internet plays in abolishing the barriers that previously prevented educational innovation from spreading. Montessori contended with uncooperative international publishers and educational organizations as she attempted to promote her method developed in the San Lorenzo slum of Rome. Her insistence on the doctrinal purity of her method required that she supervise the training of teachers and the dissemination of related literature. This dogmatic need to protect the integrity of her method slowed its spread and alienated those who attempted to help Montessori promote her work. On the internet today, movement of information is largely unfettered, and a principled rejection of individual intellectual property rights by some means that work is continually sampled and repurposed in new and inventive ways that make impossible the doctrinal purity espoused by Montessori. This new, mutative technology is disruptive and holds the potential for the rapid spread of educational innovation.

Second, Montessori’s constant recourse to her background in the study of philosophy and anthropology is inspiring and intimidating. I wonder whether I’ve received sufficient instruction to become an educator like Montessori and whether those currently studying to become educators have received the liberal education that made possible the accomplishments and innovations of educators like Montessori. I know that in my elementary, intermediate and secondary school career, my exposure to philosophy was limited, and my contending with the arguments of late white men with names like Kant, Rawls, Locke, Bentham, Hobbes and Mill has all come within the last three years. I lament not being exposed sooner, as I’ve found that the bases for many contemporary arguments about matters of policy refer to the thought of these dead men. I’m working as hard as I can to ground myself philosophically so that I can be a principled and pragmatic advocate for social justice and education as the foundation for a more democratic society.

I don’t recommend this book in full, but the included biography of Montessori and analysis of her method and subsequent critiques was useful enough for learning about her life and work. I read the parts of the Montessori method that explicitly provided philosophical justifications for her decision making in order to assess the merit of such an approach. I skimmed the repetitive descriptions of her method itself, including much of the material related to her didactic materials. I recognized early that the changing of the educational landscape in the century following the development of her method had invalidated many of her concerns.

Montessori is a complex figure: I’m inspired by Montessori’s commitment to education as a tool for achieving parity between men and women while distrustful of her often paternalistic attitude toward the poor; I recognize the contradiction between her advocacy for student liberty and her accepting assistance from Mussolini’s fascist government; I sometimes see in myself a stubborn insistence on methodological exactitude, and I hope I can temper this tendency in order that my eventual ideas about education (aided by philosophy and anthropology) find traction and are able to disseminate.

If you're interested in Montessori, I recommend taking a cursory glance at Wikipedia. If you really want to, check out The Montessori Method: The Origins of an Educational Innovation by Gerald Lee Gutek from your local library, as I wouldn't pay list price for this book.